WARNING: Brave enough to want spoilers for DS9's "Valiant"? If so, they're below.

In brief: Rather profoundly neutral.

For the last several weeks, every DS9 episode has provoked a strong reaction in me, either positive ("In the Pale Moonlight", "Inquisition", and "The Reckoning") or negative ("Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night" and especially "His Way"). I suppose that after five weeks' worth of major ups and downs, we were about due for an episode that did absolutely nothing either way. "Valiant" was just such a show: there was very little about it that made me glad I was watching, but very little that damned the episode either.

The basic premise was fine; it's a little bit of a stretch to have a ship full of cadets survive after fighting behind enemy lines for eight months, but not completely out of line. I didn't see any real need to do a story about them (and still don't, even after the show's done), but logically it's at least plausible.

Less plausible are the circumstances surrounding the U.S.S. Valiant. First, the rescue of Jake and Nog seems awfully difficult to swallow: if they've been in Dominion-controlled space for eight months, I don't see why they'd so close to the Federation at this particular point in time. Jake and Nog left from a starbase that was presumably still in Federation territory, and the attack apparently came minutes afterward. Even if you assume a delay between the teaser and the first act, that still puts the Valiant hours or even minutes from Fed territory when they rescued Jake and Nog. That strikes me as silly: if you want to run a secret mission and play wargames, you don't do it when you're standing right next to Mommy and Daddy.

Second, a mission to circumnavigate the Federation strikes me as a really long mission to send cadets on. The sucker's at least eight thousand light-years across, according to Picard in "First Contact" -- making a trip around it last only three months, as stated in the show, would make it well beyond trivial to get anywhere in the Federation quickly, which hasn't been the case much of the time. (We've been told elsewhere that it takes eight weeks at maximum warp to get from DS9 to Cestus III, which is presumably a Federation world.) This is a nit, but one that stuck out.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I can't for the life of me figure out how and when "Captain" Watters got the secret orders to get information on the Dominion battleship. Either the orders were sent recently, in which case Starfleet is assigning crucial missions to a ship listed as missing and the existence of which they can no longer confirm, or they were sent before Captain Ramirez's death, in which case Starfleet knew about that particular battleship immediately after or even before the war started. Neither one seems to fit.

All that said, however, the show's main purpose was to give us another look at Red Squad and to show Nog getting in way over his head. Both of those are certainly decent goals, but they weren't achieved particularly well.

Primarily, I think that's because of the characters on board the Valiant. The only regular characters who got any substantial screen time at all were Jake and Nog, and Jake was mostly taken out of the picture about halfway through the show, leaving Nog. Unfortunately, Nog just doesn't have that compelling quality to him which allows a show to exist around him and still work. Sisko and Kira do, owing to their backgrounds and often-superior ways of getting them into trouble; O'Brien does even when badly written, thanks to Colm Meaney; Quark ... well, frequently doesn't, but they seem to keep trying anyway. Nog doesn't strike me as a character with interesting enough conflicts to be worth watching solo for an entire hour, though, and as game as Aron Eisenberg is, he doesn't have that Meaneyesque ability to keep one riveted to the screen regardless of story. As a result, the focus on Nog tended to drift a great deal.

The cadets of Red Squad, alas, didn't fare much better. The only two cadets whose heads we got into even a little were Captain Tim Watters and Chief Dorian Collins. Paul Popowich (Watters) got across some of the force of will needed to make Watters' crew follow him, but not enough; rather than feeling pity for a cadet who got in over his head, we just wound up thinking "ah, we're aboard the U.S.S. Loony." Ashley Brianne McDonogh (Collins) did somewhat better, but her main role in the show was to be the homesick cadet who survives, much as one might expect in a teen slasher movie from the mid-1980s. Apart from a few glimmers here and there that made me see the characters as actual people with actual emotions (such as Dorian's speech about growing up on the moon), Jake and Nog more or less seemed to be surrounded by stock characters, many of them doing the usual snotty-teenager bit (particularly David Drew Gallagher as Shepard, whom we'd seen before in "Paradise Lost" and didn't impress me then either).

That left the plot -- and while the eventual outcome of it was in little doubt, there were a few small twists along the way. The basic gist of "captain wants a blaze of glory and fails" isn't exactly new, nor is the "lone outsider as voice of reason" concept we got through Jake here. What was somewhat interesting, however, is how completely ineffective Jake's arguments were. I'm not surprised he couldn't get through to Nog, but I was expecting him to convince a couple of key players that the mission wouldn't work. Instead, he did exactly what Watters wanted him to do: he made a statement that let Watters reinforce Red Squad's sense of immortality and of shared glory. Had someone like Sisko made the same attempt, I'd have been shocked at how naively he was tricked -- but Jake is still young enough to be naive in that kind of position, and I found it interesting.

Of some other interest was the manner in which the mission failed. Since it was more or less a given that it would (since that was the only way for Watters to get his comeuppance), there seemed to be a few ways in which that could happen. One option was that Jake could find a way to stop the mission, either by sabotage or by contacting the Defiant; another was that the Defiant could come screaming out of nowhere and save the Valiant at the last second. Given the number of "Star Wars" riffs we were making from the briefing scene onwards, I fully expected to see the Defiant come riding in a la the Millennium Falcon. Instead, Moore let the tragedy unfold more fully: the Valiant and very nearly everyone aboard her were killed in fairly short order. (The realization that even a direct hit on the Magical Technical Flaw didn't work and wasn't going to was nicely staged.) Of course, after that there was the usual convenience of the Defiant being the ship which just happens to find the escape pod, but there we are.

The closing scene was interesting as well; rather than issue a blanket indictment, Moore (through Nog) basically said "let the audience decide" whether these people were brave or deluded and foolish. Had the earlier writing and acting of the characters been stronger, that might actually have led to some interesting debate; as it is, I'm not sure anyone was three-dimensional enough for the argument to be worthwhile.

Other thoughts:

-- Given that the last time we saw Red Squad, they'd been used as part of Admiral Leyton's plan to take over Starfleet from within, I'm a bit surprised to see them in such good standing, and I'm really surprised to see them admiring Sisko so much, since he's the one who brought them down.

-- Although the concept of circumnavigating a three-dimensional space like the Federation is reasonable (just ask Magellan), it made me wonder why all the tactical maps we see are two-dimensional. Production restrictions strike me as the main reason, but just once I'd like to see a sense of exactly how Cardassian/Dominion and Federation territories relate to each other.

-- Early on, I found Watters more compelling than I really felt was deserved, and about halfway through the second act I realized why: he bore a remarkable resemblance to a young Captain Christopher Pike, whom I've always liked. I don't know if the casting was intentional or not, but it was effective. (Given that the Magic Technobabble Radiation used in the plan this week was delta radiation, however, I'm convinced that the casting was either intentional or at least noticed while fine-tuning the script: delta radiation is what crippled Pike, which seems appropriate.)

-- On the other hand, Courtney Peldon (Farris) struck me as someone trying really really hard to be Jeri Ryan (Juliet from the late, lamented "Dark Skies" and Seven of Nine from the not-yet-late-but-often- lamentable Voyager) and not quite pulling it off.

-- From the briefing scene onwards, the "Star Wars"-related MST moments were flying fast and furious. "We've found a flaw in the design of their antimatter storage system," for instance, absolutely begged for an immediate "A small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port." Some others:

"All decks report ready, sir." "Red Two, standing by..."

"Now, let's get that battleship and we can all go home." "You're all clear, kid!"

"Look at the SIZE of that thing!"

-- And one non-"Star Wars" MST: "Jake ... can I call you Jake?" "Sure thing, dickweed. Can I call you dickweed?" [Okay, so the word we used was a bit stronger ... but this is still vaguely a family review. :-) ]

-- As Watters is giving his final pep talk, the camera briefly focuses on a Vulcan. He looked an awful lot like the one at the end of "First Contact", but there was no credit for the actor. I'm curious.

-- The effects for the various battle scenes were quite good, both early on in the episode and during the assault on the battleship. (I particularly liked the shot of the Valiant going between two struts, seen only on the Valiant's viewscreen.)

That pretty much does it. "Valiant" struck me as being both annoying and very watchable in roughly equal measure; it's not one that I'm in any real mood to see again, but it's not one that makes me want to lob a brick through the television either. It was just ... there -- which is certainly better than some things we've had this season, but certainly not what I'd like to expect from week to week.

Wrapping up:

Writing: Some really questionable logic in the premise, but otherwise a solid story; not much depth, but a few good choices. Directing: Some nice dissolves during the preparations; far from Vejar's best work, but fine. Acting: Nobody came across as particularly compelling, and a couple of the cadets were actively annoying.

OVERALL: 5; about as ordinary as they come.


Quark! In! Drag!


Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu	<*>
"He may have been a hero.  He may even have been a great man.  But 
in the end, he was a bad captain."
		-- Nog
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